Professor Tommy Koh said he stood by his comment that Singaporeans are not a First World people. He urged Singaporeans to improve in the following: stop littering, keep our toilets clean, practise civic-mindedness and good manners, appreciate culture and the arts and take an interest in history and heritage, and love nature and care for the environment (Five tests of a truly First World people, Dec 21).
Singapore became a First World nation by virtue of its fast economic growth. Its per capita gross domestic product now is in the world's top 3 per cent - higher than those of Norway, Switzerland, the United States, Germany, Australia or Britain. Singapore became a First World nation faster than they did.
Development in other domains such as the arts and refinement of social norms and personal behaviour need longer to realise.
Our behaviour may not be as elegant or polished as that of Westerners or Japanese. But the gap is not big and is narrowing.
The fact that Singapore shares the joint top spot together with Japan on the Henley Passport Index speaks volumes for its reputation and the characteristics of its people. Singaporeans can enjoy visa-free or visa-on-arrival access at 189 destinations worldwide.
Also, Singapore possesses certain strengths lacking in some other First World countries - such as stronger family bonding, higher level of safety and stability, and racial and religious harmony.
Racial and religious discrimination are still rampant in a few First World nations. In France, social conflicts occasionally turn into riots although the majority of the people may be cultured and peace-loving. The Japanese are noted for their graciousness and civic-mindedness, yet gender inequality sees fewer women in the economic and political fields.
Though the majority of Americans may be law-abiding, certain parts of their cities are not safe at night. Some First World Western nations also have serious drug abuse and social problems.
Singapore is not perfect. We need to uplift the quality of our people and constantly upgrade our social infrastructures and institutions, as well as our policies and service levels.
Let us strive to become an even more distinguished and respected nation and people.
Albert Ng Ya Ken